Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rise of the Edupreneur

Entrepreneurs love what they do. They do what they love, are dreamers, but they also are doers and go-getters. Entrepreneurship may be missing from your resume, but shifting your perspective will change this as you experience the rush and benefits of an entrepreneurial mindset.  This exciting new trend is taking root through disruptive innovation in the workplace. The characteristics of entrepreneurial thinking go well beyond just that of innovation. Individuals and organizations that embrace this mindset shift develop dynamic behaviors that impact their organizational culture while leading to school improvement. Below are some key elements commonly associated with an entrepreneurial mindset:

  • Initiative
  • Risk-taking
  • Creativity
  • Flexibility
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem Solving
  • Resilience
  • Innovation

The elements above can be directly applied to your role as an educator.  In BrandED, Trish Rubin and I discuss the rise of the edupreneur and how this thinking can be a catalyst for transformative change. It’s time to not just think, but also act as an edupreneur to usher in needed change. This edupreneurial persona, one based on openness, can creatively cultivate new relational value and garner trust among members of your community. See what’s worked for successful entrepreneurs who’ve met their own goals, and find a fit for your continuing professional development. While embracing the listed elements above, think about the following strategies that Trish and I believe lead to edupreneurial leadership.


Image credit: www.psdgraphics.com/

Surround yourself with inspiring people

Relationships matter to edupreneurs. Do this in real time through face-to-face associations and with your closest validators. Use the wealth of TED Talks, webinars, and YouTube content online to get inspired. Follow the hot topics in leadership, communication, and relationship building. Start to follow them online. Connect to Mention and Google Alerts to get tailored feeds and information about those key areas you need in order to increase your own edupreneurship.

Get feedback every day

Talk to people about branding and the innovative climate for school reform. Share how applying a few powerful select business strategies is empowering your school leadership. Test the waters on social media with thoughts, quotes, and content that match the topics you are advancing. See the results from your peers near and far.

Ask questions 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the new direction you are setting as a leader. Get feedback. Be curious and search for answers. Leverage social media or go with face-to face conversations. Just ask!

Find happiness

Entrepreneurs work out of a passion. So do edupreneurs. There is joy in innovating, challenging the status quo, marching to the beat of a different drummer, and experiencing success through non-traditional means.

Embrace brandED

Work to present yourself with a unique brand value (UBV), which is a key to edupreneurship. Celebrate every benchmark for your school. Talking about big and small tangible accomplishments is part of communicating value. It’s the small moments that create big accomplishments, the proven results and gains with the community that can complement test score reports and expand the idea of value. Join the brandED conversation to unleash the edupreneurial drive to transform education. 

Be a continuous and curious learner 

This is a no-brainer for educators. Continue your study in the manner of a trend spotter. Look out—online, in apps, or through print resources—for the latest trends and research in leadership, pedagogy, initiating school change, technology integration, and whatever other topics inspire you. Search outside your own educational backyard to learn from other disciplines. The digital world allows us to see thousands of bits of information that can be woven into new creative thinking for growing our edupreneurial thinking and leadership.

Work to expand your network

Grow your relationships upward for your community with “reach targets,” the great people you aspire to meet with whom you can share the school brand and engage for support. Grow relationships downward with those good people that complement your network. Build relationships with service providers who help students. Talk to bus drivers, crossing guards, security staff—anyone who provides support to the community—about your vision, goals, and outcomes. Finally, network horizontally with your peers and other leaders in real-time associations, and online through hangouts and chats. Invite them to share their thinking and content about education brand. Promote relationships so that deeper connections can form, leading to cobranding exchange between yourself and other leaders.

Become a writer 

Take the time to write about your efforts in becoming an edupreneurial thinker and doer. Making visible the thoughts and reflections that are part of the journey can be the first-draft thinking that starts you on the way to sharing your personal professional brand.

Be persistent 

Entrepreneurs have the will to carry on; with that same spirit, edupreneurs don’t give up. We demonstrate our persistence on a community-wide stage. Belief is an essential part of brand development. Be the chief believer in your school brand by becoming the storyteller-in-chief.

Exhibit patience 

Entrepreneurs who are successful have a tendency to wait. Some entrepreneurs are actually procrastinators of the highest degree. Edupreneurs move at a pace that can ensure their success. Don’t rush the process. Focus on the work of your students, staff, and district. In time, the results of your improvement strategy will come to fruition.

The time has come to not only embrace new ideas and ways of thinking, but also the way in which we employ these assets to usher in meaningful change. 

Content from the following post was adapted from BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning.  Get your copy today!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Empathy and Leadership

It is easy to knock people down. Building people up is at the heart of empathetic leadership.” - @E_Sheninger

No significant relationship can exist without trust. Without relationships, no significant learning occurs. As I continue to research and reflect on strategies to build powerful relationships with others, the topic of empathy has a consistent presence.  In simple terms, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. So how does this connect to leadership?  I pulled a few connections from an article by Bruna Martinuzzi that address this topic. Below are some highlights.

  • Empathy is the oil that keeps relationships running smoothly.
  • Research by Dr. Antonio Damasio has shown people with damage to part of the brain associated with empathy show significant deficits in relationship skills, even though their reasoning and learning abilities remain intact.
  • Empathy is valued currency. It allows us to create bonds of trust, gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking, helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, and informs our decisions.
  • Tips to become more empathetic include listening, encouragement, know people’s names, don’t interrupt, be cognizant of non-verbal communication, smile, be fully present, and use genuine praise.
  • Empathy is an emotional and thinking muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it. 

Let’s be honest.  Empathy is not a typical component of core training and coursework in the field of education.  It is something that we typically learn from our parents, friends, and colleagues.  In my opinion, empathy should be a core component of curriculum in schools and the culture of any organization. Truth be told, this at times can be a difficult lesson for many of us to master. Talking about empathy and demonstrating it are two entirely different concepts. Our mindset and certain pre-dispositions put our own feelings and needs before others.   This is not always a negative, but something that many of us would agree must change.  

As leaders, it is important for us to imagine ourselves in the position of our students, staff, and community members. This gives us a better perspective on the challenges and feelings of those we are tasked to serve. Better, more informed decisions can result from “walking in the shoes” of those who will be most impacted by the decisions that we make. The image below does a great job at articulating four key elements of empathy.



As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” A culture of excellence is created through relationships built on trust and sustained through empathy. Showing we care can be as simple as listening intently, demonstrating emotional intelligence, or being non-judgmental when others open up to us about their feelings, concerns, or challenges. However, actions that bring empathy to life can have a profound impact on others. To see what I mean check out this brief video below.



As you think about your professional role as a teacher, administrator, board member, entrepreneur, or in any other field, reflect on how you can be more empathetic towards the people you work with and for. For some of our students the only empathy they might receive occurs within the schoolhouse walls. Regardless of your leadership position, understand that trust is a currency that should be valued above all else. If people don’t trust and relate to you then chances are you are a manager, not a leader. Empathetic leadership not only builds trust, but creates a culture where students want to learn and adults strive to perform their best. In BrandED, Trish Rubin and I discuss the powerful role empathy plays in the stories we share and the relationships we strive to build. 

Make empathy a part of your professional role. In the end you will be a stronger leader and a better person for it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Our Work is Our Message

The following post is adapted from BrandED: Tell Your Story, Build Relationships, and Empower Learning

Branding matters in the changing world of learning, fueled by powerful digital resources (Sheninger, 2014). It’s time to make a choice – define or be defined. Telling a powerful school story and reaching an audience have never been more possible than in today’s digital world, and never more necessary for a leader to embrace in a new world of competition and choice. Early brand adopters such as Brad Currie, Robert Zywicki, Joe Sanfelippo, Tony Sinanis, Angela Maiers, Vicki Davis, and Gwyneth Jones, are already out ahead of the pack on digital media, and they are passionate about what they do. They are inspired by their initial success and have developed professionally in ways that make them unique compared to other leaders. A brandED mindset takes professionals to the next level, adding strategic thinking and action steps for brand sustainability.

School leaders build a positive brand presence in the name of school improvement, to advance better teaching, learning and leadership, and to develop stronger school communities. The work advanced in the area of servant leadership reinforces the importance of having a brandED strategy. Sipe and Frick (2009) identify the following seven pillars of servant leadership:

  • Person of character
  • Puts people first
  • Skilled communicator
  • Compassionate collaborator
  • Has foresight
  • Systems thinker
  • Leads with moral authority

The pillars of servant leadership speak to the underlying mission of brandED leaders; they define leadership as something to be shared, distributed, transparent, and focused on success and happiness. BrandED does not rest on the shoulders of one person. It is a distributed, collaborative, service-oriented school improvement effort articulated through the power of storytelling. 


Image credit: wedesign.la/how-to-tell-your-brands-story/

The marketing principle that guides business brand is its drive to build relationships. BrandED educators focus strongly on that aspect. Successful school leadership in today’s digital world is fueled by connectivity. Aren’t educators always building, brokering, and sustaining relationships? Focusing on relationships is a cornerstone of any leadership effort and one that supports a brandED strategy. Relationship building is a never-ending process, and in education it is not a part of a “sales cycle” (Connick, 2012) but is instead a part of an “awareness cycle.” For any school leader, being relational is as important as being knowledgeable.

BrandED behavior strategically focuses on relationships forged and sustained through trust. Mutual trust is a core element of brand loyalty in business and in schools, thanks to the digital age. A great workplace is created through organizational credibility, respect, fairness, and a foundation of trust (Mineo, 2014). The work involved in brandED development relies on building welcoming access in real time and online so that people feel connected and happy in their work. Access is supported by people who know that the calendar isn’t just about scheduling the day’s appointments but also about making time for a ritual of building trust. Your purposeful strategic effort to create relationships is vital.


Image credit: hwww.digibutterfly.com/

As you begin to develop your own brandED mindset and strategy, especially through a time of innovation, the following focus areas are places in which to access new connectivity for your own brand and the school’s brand. In each area, work on building relationships that promote both your brand and the school’s.

  • Student achievement. Standardized test scores are most often used to evaluate the overall effectiveness of a school. Public relations and communication efforts focused on evidence of growth in this area and in other academic and nonacademic areas can be conveyed through social media. Doing so will help create and strengthen a school’s brand presence and convey why the brand matters. It is important to remember that this cannot be your only focus, as achievement will never tell the whole story of success (see other pillars below).
  • Quality of teachers and administrators. Student learning and achievement are directly linked to the quality of the school staff. Stakeholders are often more than willing to move to towns with higher taxes that attract the best and brightest educators. Utilizing social media to convey staff statistics can build the confidence of any community, which has a positive impact on a school’s brand. Hire, support, and retain the best while also consistently sharing their great work.
  • Innovative instructional practices and programs. Course offerings, curricular decisions, unique programs, and innovative instructional practices play a key role in student engagement while also having a positive impact on student outcomes (Whitehurst, 2009). Unique course offerings, curricula, and programs make a school or district stand out. The publication and dissemination of this information sends a powerful message related to college and career readiness and the ability of students to follow their passions.
  • Extracurricular activities. Extracurricular, nonacademic activities are a valued component of any school community and help develop well-rounded students. Leaders who use social media as part of a combined communications and public relations strategy spotlight these activities to gain the attention of stakeholders.

Narratives both large and small are valued as tangible evidence of the school’s worth.  Stories come in different sizes and hold different purposes, but simply said they keep the engagement going. Sharing through big and small ideas aligned to the focus areas above will result in greater transparency that will help to build better relationships, support, and admiration for your noble work. It's time to join the brandED conversation.

Connick, W. (2012). The seven stages of the sales cycle. National Association of Sales Professionals. Retrieved from     
     https://www.nasp.com/article/AE1B7061-3F39/the-seven-stages-of-thesales-cycle.html

Mineo, L. D. (2014). The importance of trust in leadership. Research Management Review, 20(1), 1–6.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Digital leadership: Changing paradigms for changing times. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Sipe, J. W., & Frick, D. M. (2009). Seven pillars of servant leadership: Practicing the wisdom of leading by serving. New 
     York, NY: Paulist Press.

Whitehurst, G. J. (2009). Don’t forget curriculum. Washington, DC: Brookings. Retrieved from 
     www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/1014_curriculum_whitehurst.aspx


Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Significance of Trust

The glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and the led — is trust, and trust is based on integrity.” ~ Brian Tracy

Success in life hinges upon the ability to build and sustain relationships with others. This fact allies to both our personal and professional lives.  Many elements combine to form a relationship, but there is one specific facet that is more important than others.  Trust is the bedrock of any relationship.  Without it the chances are pretty good that the relationship will not withstand the test of time. In our personal lives trust is built over time through a combination of behaviors such as honesty, integrity, dependability, communication, and empathy.  It is something that is earned and as such, time must be spent to build it. When in place, a relationship thrives in a mutually beneficial way.  

With all the time and energy that goes into building a relationship it can be undone in an instant. Trust can be lost through acts of secrecy, dishonesty, ego, and selfishness. There is no balance here. Trust must be earned and nurtured over time. Marriage is a great personal example where trust helps to build a bond prior to tying the knot.  Leading up to the proposal is a time period where two people work to build trust and eventually determine whether or not they love one another.  I think it goes without saying that you can’t love a person who you don’t trust. Sure, trust in one another can be tested during the course of any relationship, but without trust the relationships cease to exist.


Image credit: http://www.euroscientist.com/

Trust is just as important in the professional world as it is in our personal lives. Without it nothing of substance will ever materialize. Research validates this statement. I recently read an article titled The Neuroscience of Trust by Paul Zak.  Below is a key finding from his research.


Compared with people at low-trust companies, people at high-trust companies report: 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, 76% more engagement, 29% more satisfaction with their lives, 40% less burnout.

Wow!  The results above speak for themselves.  As leaders we need to critically reflect on how we not only improve, but also develop trust in and with the people with whom we work.  Before I expand on a list of strategies that can assist in developing trust and building relationships I want to definitively state the one behavior that unequivocally creates a culture devoid of trust….micromanagement.  Leaders who micromanage don’t build up the others around them. Instead they miss a golden opportunity to empower others to unleash their hidden talents and become leaders themselves. Controlling everything and the continuous scrutiny of the actions of others destroys morale while undermining a key principle that it takes a village to raise a child. In the case of education, it takes the actions of the collective, rooted in trust, agency, and empowerment to achieve sustainable results.

A culture of trust will never be established if micromanagers abuse their power. Below are some quick strategies to build trust in any culture:
  • Delegate tasks to build capacity in others. 
  • Use a process of consensus for major initiatives and changes. All stakeholders, including students, yearn to have a stake in culture changing decisions that impact them. 
  • Develop pathways to improve student agency to build a greater sense of trust among learners, but also focus on educator agency.
  • During meetings and conversations be present both physically and mentally. Listen intently and act to illustrate that the ideas of others are valued.
  • No matter what it takes, try to find practical solutions to give people you work with the most precious resource of all – time. When doing so remove the fear of failure. As principal I created the Professional Growth Period (PGP), which was our take on genius for staff. 
  • Guide people through conversations on the “what ifs” instead of spending precious time on the “yeah buts”. Thinking big and allowing others to actively pursue and implement innovative ideas show others that you truly believe in their work. This is how we can being to transform leadership.
  • Use observation and evaluation protocols as a means for growth and improvement, not as an “I gotcha”. Engage others in reflective dialogue around professional practice, afford the opportunity to align evidence to support any written narrative, and provide additional points of contact if someone has a bad day when being observed/evaluated. Use walk-throughs to provide targeted feedback to prepare educators for more formal evaluations.  Return on Instruction (ROI) matters.
  • Keep your word.
  • Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing to do yourself.
  • Avoid self-promotion. Instead work tirelessly to openly commend and build up the work of others.
If you tend to micromanage, stop now. Think about your actions and how they might be negatively impacting the people you work with.  If you are not a micromanager, reflect on how you can utilize some of the strategies above to build better relationships through trust.  What else would you add to the list above?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Competencies vs. Skills

The 21st Century skills discussion and debate has waged on even prior to the onset of this century.  The ensuing conversations have provided an opportunity for schools, districts, and organizations to critically evaluate what students need to know and be able to do in order to succeed in the new world of work.  As we have moved further into this century the number 21 has less of a meaning, but the skills are still important.  Thus, many educators, including myself, now refer to these as essential skills.  Over time they have evolved beyond just communication, collaboration, creativity, and global awareness to include entrepreneurship and emerging technological proficiency.

The other day I was speaking with Rose Else-Mitchell, a wickedly smart educational leader, who pushed my thinking on the whole skills conversation. As I was reviewing a talking point for a webinar that I was to facilitate later in the day, I brought up this image and discussed the skills that students needed to be critical thinkers in the 21st Century and beyond. After looking at what I had on the slide and listening to my analysis, she commented that I was (or should be) referencing and explaining competencies, not just skills, which students will need. This really got me thinking. 

As I reflected on her feedback I began to dive deeper into what the difference is between competencies and skills as well as their implications on learning.  Below is an image that until my conversation with Rose I would have just viewed as another catchy way to visualize digital skills that students (and adults) need. However, I am now more focused on how we can begin to address these as competencies to really prepare students for success in a disruptive world.


Image credit: www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/8-digital-skills-we-must-teach-our-children/

While skills are an important part of learning and career paths, they’re not rich or nuanced enough to guide students towards true mastery and success. Skills focus on the “what” in terms of the abilities a student needs to perform a specific task or activity. They don’t provide enough connection to the how. Competencies take this to the next level by translating skills into behaviors that demonstrate what has been learned and mastered in a competent fashion. In short, skills identify what the goal is to accomplish. 

Competencies outline "how" the goals and objectives will be accomplished. They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do. There is also an increased level of depth that takes into account skills, knowledge and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability. A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do. Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems. 

In order to really see the difference between a skill and competency I came across this great communication example provided by HRTMS
A person can become a good presenter through practice, learning from others, and education but in order to be a strong communicator one must rely on a combination of skills PLUS behavior and knowledge.  A person can learn how to be a good presenter but only a strong communicator has advanced language skills, the knowledge of diverse cultures, and behaves patiently when communicating.   In short, skills are specific learned activities like mopping the floor, using a computer, and stocking merchandise, while competencies are skills + knowledge  + behavior like problem solving, communication, or professionalism.
Competencies, therefore, may incorporate a skill, but are much more than the skill.  They include a dynamic combination of abilities, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as knowledge that is fundamental to the use of a skill aligned to a learning outcome. The Rigor/ Relevance Framework helps us move from a focus on skills to competency-based learning. The acquisition and application of diverse skills is foundational, but moving to Quad D requires the use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate cognitive growth and authenticity through solving real-world problems that are unpredictable in nature. 

Success in a digital world will rely on much more than skills.  It's time to shift our focus an energy on developing and assessing core and innovative competencies that will serve all students now and in the future. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

6 Tips to Move Large Change Efforts Forward

Change is a process, not an event.  Saying this and fully understanding the intricacies involved with the process of change are two totally different things. Change isn’t something that can just be willed on a person, people, or organization.  Mandates and top-down directives rarely become embedded and sustained components of school culture because once the focus changes (and it always does) then all the time, energy, and frustration transfers to the new initiative. These “flavor of the month” rituals driven by a need to embrace the next big thing drives everyone crazy and only exasperates the whispers of this too shall pass, which eventually morph into a chorus of resistance.

Let me be blunt.  Change for the sake of change is a ridiculous waste of time and resources. Improvements are needed in every school and district.  Some changes will be mandated from your respective state. In some cases, these will be hard to swallow, but from an accountability perspective you will need to dig deep and display what constitutes real leadership even if this is not modeled by the people in power above you.  Nobody likes change and this includes many of you!  Our brains are wired to keep us safe and be risk-adverse. This is not to say that many people are not willing to try to implement new ideas and strategies, but when we do there is often a sense of fear and concern as to what happens if we are not successful.  Rest assured it is a natural part of the change process.

Image credit: http://outsourcemag.com/

Large change efforts can stymy even the most ardent leaders who pursue different and better. There are so many moving parts, people to please, and hurdles to overcome that getting derailed is a reality that must be put front and center from the beginning. Below I am going to offer some tips on how to not only move large change efforts forward, but to also ensure sustainability and efficacy.  The tips and strategies below are framed around one large change initiative that I helped facilitate as a high school principal - a new teacher evaluation system in our district. NJ mandated every district to adopt an evaluation tool that was more detailed and moved away from the traditional narrative report.  Here is what we learned:

  • Be a part of the solution – Large-scale change typically happens at the district level. When I found out that the district was going to be selecting a new evaluation tool I immediately volunteered to be a part of the process. Regardless of your position don’t sit by idly on the sidelines. Get involved!
  • Do your research - In this case, we had to adopt a new evaluation tool and there were many choices available.  My team and I did an exhaustive study to narrow down the choices to what we felt were the best four options.  We also looked at the research that supported each tool.  
  • Embrace the 4 C’s – In this case the 4 C’s are Communication, Committee, Collaboration, and Consensus. Success of any change, minor or major, begins with effective communication. Your entire staff and community need to know the what, why, where, and when associated with the change. Communication never ceases to be a prevalent component of this process. Next, form a committee and make sure diverse voices and personalities are represented.  For the change to really take hold supporters and critics alike must come together. Establish committee norms to facilitate an environment where the goal is to collaborate to come to a consensus as to what is the best way to move the change forward.  In our case, we reviewed the research on each of the four evaluation tools being considered, allowed each company to pitch their product to the committee, and then openly debated which tool we felt would work best for our school district. 
  • Implement with intent and integrity – Once consensus is reached it is time yet again to communicate clearly why the decision was made and how implementation will proceed. The focus should be on how this change will improve teaching, learning, and/or leadership. Provide as much information that validates why the change is being implemented and be honest if any questions or critical feedback arise.
  • Provide adequate and appropriate support – Needless to say professional development (not the drive-by variety) is critical for large-scale change to succeed. After deciding on an evaluation tool, we provided in-house trainings on not only the tool itself, but also how the process of conducting observations and evaluations would change. The support continued on an on going, as needed basis until the feeling was that the path to sustainability was well on its way.
  • Evaluate, reflect, act – Nothing is perfect in the field of education.  As such we must always look to improve, not just sustain, a change initiative. The process of reflection and evaluation on a consistent basis helps to create a culture committed to growth and improvement.  Taking action to make things better leads to a culture of excellence. 

So there you have it. There is no recipe for change, but experience informs us on how we can make the process a bit smoother eventually leading to success.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Better Decisions, Better Leaders

The only thing that might be harder than embracing change is making tough decisions. A hallmark of great leadership is creating the conditions to arrive at consensus when major decisions will impact the entire school or district. Giving others a say and allowing for critical conversation is a sign of strength, not weakness.  As change is a process, not an event, discussions, feedback, and reflection can and should take time in order to make the best decision possible. This helps to ensure successful implementation and sustainability. 

As a leader in your classroom, school, district, or organization the buck stops with you.  Actions are what truly matter and ultimately determine your effectiveness.  Actions change things and your decision to act under a variety of circumstances is more important than ever.  Decisions made by leaders have always been placed under a microscope, but the digital world has opened the process to even more scrutiny.  Many decisions must be made at the individual level and leaders understand this. In an age of mandates, directives, budget cuts, and a lack of time, getting some support to guide the decision- making process is a good thing.  Enter the Eisenhower Matrix.


Image credit: http://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box

As I was perusing my Twitter stream the other day I came across this tool and immediately saw its value. Educational leaders are faced with a barrage of decisions daily and sometimes they come in clumps.  During my time as a high school principal this seemed to be more the norm than the exception. So what do you do when faced with juggling numerous issues at a time? Some decisions have to take precedent over others. This tool can assist you with deciding on and prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance. Through a critical reflection of the decision at hand you can begin to sort out less urgent and important tasks that can be either delegated to someone else or not do at all. Below are some simple tips to consider when using the matrix to improve productivity by making better decisions.


Image credit: http://www.ciaraconlon.com/

The Eisenhower Matrix illustrates that indecision is an option available to leaders. In your respective position begin to align items to each box that correlate with the types of decisions you have to commonly make.  The uniqueness of your position and professional beliefs will result in priorities that differ from your face-to-face colleagues and those in your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Delegate when possible, but own the decisions that will have the most impact on your students, school, and district.  

As you begin to follow through on making both difficult and not so difficult decisions, be cognizant of what must come next, which might be even more important that making the decision in the first place. Be an active part of the process through modeling actions to bring about change. Don’t be a boss…be a leader. Anyone can tell others what to do. Showing them how is what separates real leaders from the pretenders.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The BrandED Conversation

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou 

When I was asked a while back to write a book for Jossey-Bass, I was relatively non-committal.  I had just finished back-to-back projects that resulted in Digital Leadership and Uncommon Learning, which took up a great deal of my time.  In my mind I needed a break from writing and on top of that really had no clue what to write about. For me, the ultimate goal I establish when taking on a book project is to try to write a unique piece that either greatly enhances existing work in the education and leadership space or creates an entirely new niche. I’m not going to lie – in this bold new digital world this is extremely hard.

The acquisitions editor at the time never gave up on me. This made me think hard and reflect on what topic I was truly passionate about. I eventually settled on branding in education, but not for the reason you might think. During my career as a principal branding became synonymous with the successful digital transformation that occurred at my former school. Using digital tools, we crafted a new narrative about the amazing work that was taking place that was backed by evidence of results.  We showed that embracing innovative practices aligned to a sound pedagogical foundation could create a learning culture rooted in meaningful learning and relationships. Efficacy, in part, was transparently integrated in our stories of struggle, systems change, and success. The power of telling our story galvanized and inspired us in ways we never could have imagined. 

The outcomes described above might never had come to pass had it not been for Trish Rubin.  In 2009 as I began my journey to becoming a digital leader, she relentlessly reached out to me and explained how I was incorporating branding principles in innovative ways.  Trish, a former educator turned business maven, helped me realize that a focus on telling, not selling, was creating unique value to my school community.  As a result we embarked on a journey to delve into how a brandED mindset could help promote, sustain, and amplify the great work taking place every day in schools across the world. We scratched the surface in 2013 as I worked with her to include a chapter on branding in Digital Leadership, which later came out early in 2014.  However, there was more to this story.


Order your copy TODAY!

As I reflected on my journey with Trish my mind became set on writing BrandED as a way to pay if forward with Trish and thank her for how she helped me as a leader. She opened my eyes to a concept that resonated not only with me, but also my stakeholders and countless educators across the world. She helped me address my own bias with a business only view of branding and together we worked to unlock the benefits of become the storyteller-in-chief.  To model this, we wrote the book using a conversational tone. Chapters have been re-titled conversations as we take readers on a journey through the history of brand and how a mindset shift can leverage powerful aspects resulting in an improved learning culture, expanded school performance, and increased resources. 
"If you want to change education, change the story being told." 
With change in education the brandED conversation is more important than ever.  As greatness occurs every single day it is imperative that we share in transparent ways to create a new status quo using brandED strategies. Quite simply, if you don’t tell your story someone else will.  Define before being defined. It is our hope that our book will lay the foundation for all educators to tell their story, empower learning, and build relationships. Relationships are built, in part, on feeling. BrandED illustrates to readers how feeling can be cultivated through image, promise, result, vision, belief, emotion, and value.  Below are some key takeaways:
  • Leverage digital tools to become the storyteller-in-chief and build better community relationships
  • Strengthen internal and external communications among students, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders
  • Increase resources by establishing strategic partnerships and strengthening ties to key stakeholders
  • Promote connectivity, transparency, and community to build a positive culture that extends beyond the schoolhouse door to build powerful relationships
As with all books BrandED has been a labor of love.  One thing that Trish and I emphasize throughout the book is how the strategies presented connect to research. Some other key aspects include reflective questions at the end of each conversation to help readers think critically about how to implement the strategies presented.  There are also practitioner stories throughout the book that illustrate how brandED thinking can positively impact learning and leadership. Finally, the book wraps up with numerous resources curated in an appendix including digital tools that can be implemented immediately to begin, sustain, or enhance your brandED journey. 

On behalf of Trish and I we really hope you enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed writing it. Grab your copy today and join the conversation on social media by using #brandEDU. Below are a few reviews.

"Branding instead of being branded. Defining instead of being defined. Innovative educators must stand up for their ideas and actions instead of being judged and branded by external agencies using standardized measures. Eric Sheninger and Trish Rubin present an excellent guide for educators and education leaders to tell their stories through BrandED."
Yong Zhao, PhD, Foundation Distinguished Professor, School of Education, University of Kansas and author of Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?

"A great resource for educators who want to strengthen their connections with students, teachers, parents, and the wider community. These two innovative leaders don't just capture how to tell the story of a school—they show how to create it."
Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take

"Every day in every one of your schools, great things happen. How does your community know? Schools that are Future Ready boldly engage their community to build relationships and empower both students and families. Powerful yet practical, BrandED is the perfect resource to help your school share its story with the world."
Thomas C. Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools

"Eric and Trish demystify what it means to brand one's school by providing eight compelling conversations that not only lead to a deeper understanding of branding, but provide relevant ways for school leaders to frame their work… . In the vast sea of information in which we currently reside, using the BrandED Leadership methods described in this book will help school leaders reach their audiences in ways that create trusting relationships and loyalty."
Dwight Carter, Principal, New Albany High School

"Disruption is the new normal. And the great disruptors of our time are shaping the culture itself in innovative ways. Eric and Trish's book BrandED sends a very compelling message to school leaders that developing and executing a smart, innovative brand strategy can disrupt the best practices' conventions of the existing school system. Like great disruptive brands from Apple to Uber, educators now have the ability to get the community engaged and immersed in the school's brand equity—and BrandED provides the roadmap for getting there." 
Scott Kerr, Executive Director of Strategy and Insights, Time Inc.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Show You Care

As an identical twin it was always a challenge going through school.  Initially my brother and I had to deal with the fact that our teachers could not tell us apart. My grandmother rectified this problem by outfitting each of us with belts that had our first initial on them.  As we aged beyond the elementary years, teachers began to tell us apart better as some slight differences in appearance began to take shape as well as some major shifts in personality.  Thank goodness for that, as we would never have survived through the middle school years if we were still forced to wear those belts. 

The second challenge came in the form of academic achievement.  For my twin, learning and success, based on traditional metrics, came very easily.  It seemed to me at least that he did not have to put in much effort to earn high marks on assessments. Obviously my stance on grades and learning has changed a great deal since then, but this nonetheless posed yet another challenge of being a twin.  I had to study twice as long or longer just to earn a B in many of the same classes where my brother got an A. School came much easier for my brother.

My saving grace came in the form of some amazing teachers. I loved the life sciences, particularly biology. My love for science eventually led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in marine biology.  This genuine interest took hold in the 7th grade thanks to Mr. South, my science teacher.  As I got to high school I still had a strong interest in science, but struggled in certain courses such as chemistry and anatomy/physiology.  The struggle was amplified as my brother excelled in both courses. Ah, the joy of going to a small school.

Thankfully for me Dr. Raymond Hynoski was the teacher of both these courses. He was a quirky fellow at times, but someone who had a firm grasp of the content and helped students master the concepts.  Each of his classes was filled with humor, relevance, and inspiration that everyone in the class could be a chemist or doctor.  His most endearing characteristic was how he consistently went above and beyond to let all his students know that he cared.  Each day I looked forward to attending his classes even if I struggled.  I might not have done as well as I would have liked in his courses, but I tried hard and Dr. Hynoksi was able to emphasize even the slightest successes in my efforts to learn the concepts. I had to take chemistry.  It was not a choice. Anatomy and physiology was an elective that I only signed up for because Dr. Hynoski was the teacher. 

There are many lessons that caring educators such as Dr. Hynoski teach us.  So much pressure is placed on teachers and administrators to achieve at all costs. Rankings, stakeholder perceptions about the importance of standardized test scores, and honor rolls do nothing but make this issue worse. This is unfortunate as grades and scores are not what students will remember.  What will resonate with students long after they have passed through our schools are the educators who believed in them. The ability of educators to provide hope and encouragement that inspire learners to follow their dreams and aspirations provides a priceless value that is not often acknowledged publicly, but greatly appreciated privately.


Image credit: Jackie Gerstein

The power of empathy and the act of caring could mean the difference between a child sticking out school or dropping out.  School to many children serves as a refuge from the harsh world that is their unfortunate reality. It could also provide invaluable lessons that fuel a career path that might never have been imagined.  Showing that you care daily takes only a little effort, but the potential payoff is much more valuable than what you could ever receive in a monetary sense. 

All kids have greatness hidden inside them. It is the job of an educator to help them find and unleash it. Show that you care especially as students struggle. You can never care too much.  Thank you to Dr. Hynoksi and many of my other teachers for teaching me what truly matters in life.

As adults we must not forget the power of showing each other we care.  Positive encouragement and support go a long way in helping others cope with the challenges of life while building lasting relationships. Take the time to mail a card, make a phone call, or send an electronic form of communication not just to those in need, but to others on a whim. In my opinion, there is not a right or wrong way to care…. we just need to make more concerted efforts to do it regularly.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Preparation for the New World of Work

A great deal has been written about the future and the importance of preparing students with the skills, mindset, and attributes necessary for success in a rapidly evolving world. Truth be told, this is quite the harrowing task and one that should compel us all to pause and critically reflect on not only where schools are, but more importantly where our students need them to be. If schools continue down the track of sustaining outdated practices we will continue to churn out a population of students that are only good at doing school.  This applies not only to K-12, but also higher education.  Change is not coming, it is already here beating down the door. 

Speaking of change . . . With the rapid pace of technological change, specifically advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, it is nearly impossible to hypothesize the types of jobs that will be available.  Thus, schools and education in general need to create a learning culture that not only inspires students, but also prepares them for success in their future. This means re-integrating trade-based courses and programs that use to be the norm in virtually every school.  After all, the world will still need plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and auto mechanics well into the future. The caveat here though is to employ forward thinking to create new areas of study and exploration. These revamped programs should afford students the opportunity to use real-world tools to engage in meaningful work that aligns with a future-focused vision. How well schools do this might ultimately determine not only the future success of our students, but a prosperous future in general. 




Without a crystal ball it is difficult to foresee with certainty what the future will hold.  However, an endless array of cues garnered from technological innovation affords us the opportunity to reinvent schools in ways that can give students a fighting chance in the new world of work. We first acknowledge the fact that the way many of us were taught and assessed has little value in today’s world, let alone the future.  The second acknowledgement is that an effectuation with standardized test scores, grades, and homework will only result in schools going deeper down the rabbit hole.  Something must give.

The new world of work presents a wakeup call of sorts. A business as usual model based on efficiency, repetition, and knowledge acquisition will only prepare students for a world that no longer exists.  Skills that emphasize the unique abilities specific to human beings will enable not only current, but also future generations of learners to prevail in a world where technology will eventually replace most jobs currently available.  The challenge for education is to begin to embrace new modes of thinking and innovative practices that are disruptive in nature and difficult to assess using traditional metrics.  This shift will not be easy, but the outcome could pay off tenfold. 

We are at a crossroads in education.  Traditional measures of success often blind us from the truth.  Consider looking at the current job market and see where the trends reside by conducting an audit.  Then compare these to your curriculum, course offerings, pedagogy, learning spaces, available technology, schedule, and other key components of school culture to determine how prepared your students are for the current workforce.  Take your audit one step further and determine how/if imagination, negotiating, questioning, empathizing, storytelling, connecting, creativity, and design are emphasized in your school culture. This audit will help you determine preparedness for the new world of work. 

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Learning is the Reward

Let’s face it, school, as we know it is driven by grades as the main reflection of what students do, or do not, know.  What has resulted is a rat race of sorts where many kids and parents alike have their eye on the prize. The prize in this case is either a coveted letter or number grade that is celebrated above the most important aspect of education – whether a student actually learned and can apply this newly constructed knowledge in meaningful ways. Micro-credentials, although a step in a better direction as a means to make feedback more personal, can also perpetuate this problem.  

The process of grading is convoluted and fraught with errors and at times arbitrary decisions.  Just think about the inherent disaster of points systems. Many grades are determined using an accumulation of points over a set amount of time including homework (just checked for completeness), extra-credit, meeting (or failing to meet) behavioral expectations, participation, or a loss of points for late assignments.  The last example illustrates how many grades are nowhere close to indicating what a student has actually learned. The issues with grading are not new.  After an analysis of several research studies, Alfie Kohn (2011) concluded the following:
  • Grades tend to diminish students’ interest in whatever they’re learning.  
  • Grades create a preference for the easiest possible task.
  • Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking.
Grading perpetuates a bigger problem.  If students come through our doors each day to just "do school" then we have already failed them. By failure I mean a blatant disregard for providing them with the necessary skills, behaviors, and qualities that a grade could never quantify.  Grading is a major component compelling kids to just go through the motions and “do” school. Learning, not grades, should be the reward for students. Helping them recognize this is the challenge we must all accept. I recently came across the learning pit concept and it immediately resonated with me.  With learning as not only the goal, but also the final outcome, students are guided through a process that illustrates how learning is the ultimate reward. When grades are thrown into the mix the focus becomes a path of least resistance, negating the positive outcomes associated with students experiencing the learning pit. 


Image credit: http://francinemassue.weebly.com/

What is the hard truth about traditional grades and how they are currently used? In this day and age I think grades are more for parents and schools than they are for the students we are trying to serve. Learning is not only a messy process, but it the path also varies greatly from student to student. All kids learn differently and possess different and unique abilities to show us that they understand concepts. Makerspace work and projects that students engage in are a great example of this point. Students do to learn through trial and error, failure, collaboration, cross-disciplinary connections, taking risks, and overcoming certain fears that grades bring about. The ultimate reward is making something that does something and in many cases this is a workable solution to a problem they identified. 

I think we are a long way off from abolishing all grades.  That doesn’t mean we can’t critically reflect on the role grades play and how they are calculated.  If the true goal of schools is learning then that should be reflected somehow in a grade.  We must begin by developing better formative and summative assessments that move away from students telling us what they know and instead show us that they understand. A mindset shift is also needed where students work and think in ways that allow them to experience the inherent rewards of entering and exiting the learning pit.  This is Quad D learning at its finest. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Get the Good News Out

Let’s face it – great things occur in all schools on a daily basis. We see the fruits of our labor through our students as they show growth in learning over time. There is nothing more gratifying as a servant of education then when our passion translates into helping students of various ability levels accomplish tasks that they themselves never thought possible.  There are countless stories to be shared that illustrate how schools are meeting the diverse needs of learners today while preparing them for success in their future.  Telling these stories adds another layer to initiatives and strategies developed to empower students and energize a community of stakeholders.


Image credit: https://brushheadmusings.wordpress.com

The good news doesn’t stop there.  Teachers, administrators, and parents go above and beyond to serve kids and the profession. Each story told helps to establish a new reality instead of one that historically has been dominated by perception.  As I have been writing since 2009, if you don’t tell your story someone else will. When someone else controls the narrative, chances are it might not paint an accurate picture of what is truly happening in your classroom, school, or district. Embracing a storyteller-in-chief mindset should no longer be optional, but instead a decision grounded in the benefits of being transparent and building powerful relationships with stakeholders (parents, media, businesses, community members, etc.). This is the premise behind brandED leadership.

To get the good news out you don’t have to continue to wait patiently for the mainstream media to cover your stories. It also doesn’t have to result in a drain on your time.  By working smarter, not harder, you can begin the process of curating and then sharing powerful learning success stories that will help to establish a new, better identity in a digital world. One strategy I developed as a principal was to create a template for my staff to easily share all the amazing work they were engaged in both with students and their own learning. This template was used to create the monthly Principal’s Report as I called it. The categories included the following:

  • Guest speakers
  • Innovative practices
  • Student honors
  • Field trips
  • Guidance news
  • Professional learning
  • Theater arts
  • Facility updates
  • Other

The categories above are what I used and provide a frame of reference to create your own template. Each month I would send the template out and ask my teachers to share any pertinent work. Everything was then curated into a final document, edited twice, and then sent out to my stakeholders using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Remind, our school app, and an email blast. The final product was nothing fancy, but loaded with valuable news and insights to show everyone in our community the great work happening inside and outside the walls of our building. Check out an example HERE. Want to share content like this across multiple social media platforms with one tool to save time? If so check out IFTTT. Want to program specific times to send out tweets and other social media messages? Well there are tools for that as well. Check out Buffer and Hootsuite

The report became an invaluable resource for me to pull content into other digital channels and further amplify the work taking place at my school.  With my teachers permission I copied and pasted excerpts and worked the content into more elaborate blog posts.  You could even apply the same concept to Smore.  I also began to incorporate the ideas, strategies, and innovative practices into presentations I was delivering both at the local and state level. When video and pictures are incorporated you ultimately develop a digital leadership strategy that not only gets the good news out, but does so in a way that builds a positive brand presence. 

Keep in mind this simple equation to consistently get the good news out:

Communications + Public Relations = Brand presence

For more tips and ideas on how this equation can help you get the good news out click HERE. What other ways are you leveraging to get the good news out on your classroom, school, or district?


Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Pedagogical Shift Needed for Digital Success

In a previous post I discussed in detail strategies to help ensure the effective use of technology to improve learning outcomes. You don’t have to be a fan of technology, but you do need to understand that it’s a catalyst for some exciting pedagogical changes.  The purposeful use of technology can innovate assessment, transform time frames around learning, increase collaboration, enable learning about information and research thanks to unprecedented access, and provide a level of student ownership like never before. These are all outcomes that any educator would (or should) openly embrace. 

I get the fact that technology can increase engagement, but if that engagement does not lead to evidence of learning then what’s the point?  Like it or not, all educators are being held accountable in some form or another for improvement in learning outcomes that result in an increase in achievement.  This is why evidence of a return on instruction (ROI) when integrating technology is critical. Just using it to access information is also not a sound use. As teachers and administrators we must be more intentional when it comes to digital learning.  If the norm is surface-level integration that asks students to demonstrate knowledge and comprehension the most beneficial aspects of digital are missed. A recent article by Beth Holland for Edutopia reinforced many of my thoughts as of late on this topic. Below some words of caution from her:
“The dissemination of digitized, teacher-driven content is not full blended learning. Though this can be viewed as a first step toward new models of learning, the peril lies in complacency. When blended learning is equated with digital workflow, students remain consumers of teacher-directed content instead of becoming creators of knowledge within a context that they can actively control.”
Student agency is one of the most powerful improvements that technology can provide.  This is the ultimate goal in my opinion, but to begin to set the stage for consistent, effective use a uniform pedagogical shift has to be our focus when it comes to digital learning.  The Rigor Relevance Framework provides a solid lens to look at the learning tasks that students are engaged in and redesign them in ways that move away from telling us what they know and instead showing whether or not they actually understand.



This simple, yet powerful shift can be applied to all digital activities. Now I full understand there is a time and place for basic knowledge acquisition and recall, especially at elementary level. However, the goal should be an evolution in pedagogy, especially assessment, where students can demonstrate conceptual mastery in a variety of ways. Instead of using technology to ask students what the capitol is of a state or country ask them to create a brochure using a tool of their choice and explain why the capitol is located where it is.  When designing digital learning tasks think about how students can demonstrate understanding aligned to standards by:
  • Arguing  
  • Creating
  • Designing 
  • Inventing
  • Concluding
  • Predicting
  • Exploring
  • Planning
  • Rating
  • Justifying
  • Defending
  • Comparing
It is important to understand that the verbs above should apply to a range of innovative learning activities, not just those involving digital tools.  By moving away from the use of technology to support low-level learning tasks we can really begin to unleash it’s potential while providing students with greater relevance through authentic work.  This shift will take some time, but the ultimate learning payoff is well worth it. Below are some examples of how my teachers made this shift when I was the principal at New Milford High School:
Mr. Groff’s history classes utilized Paperlet, a participatory technology platform where students created digital stories that incorporated various multimedia elements including video, sound, and image files. The students worked with Mrs. Fleming on Google Chromebooks in the library to design their e-books. During the course of the activity students made recommendations to Paperlet designers on needed changes and enhancements, which were immediately made to improve student experiences.  
Students in Mrs. Groff’s Voices in Poetry and Prose classes had been reading independently since the beginning of the school year. They chose their own books to read based on their interests and reading levels. Students then worked with Mrs. Groff and Mrs. Fleming to create book trailers on their favorite books. Students used WeVideo, Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, and other available technologies to create their videos. These trailers were then loaded onto WeVideo and a hash tag was used to share and get feedback from all over the world. 
Jessica Groff and Joanna Westbrook created an ELA task that incorporated Twitter into their unit on Julius Caesar and built on content authentic to the play – i.e. social media repurposed with and for academic discourse. To accomplish their goals, these teachers began with an informational text on the history of the Roman Forum to ground their use of social media in historical discourse and academic content. In addition, the teachers worked with students to reverse engineer the rhetoric of Twitter and generate a list of the style of the tweets students see currently in their daily lives. They also used Mozilla Thimble to create memes that allowed both the tech-savvy and non-tech savvy to present their visuals in a more professional manner. The use of this technology allowed students to bring visual clarity, some humor, and some creativity to their responses.  
Mr. Devereaux's AP Biology class used the apps iMotion and Stop Motion Studio to create stop-motion videos showing the process of meiosis. They used iMovie to put voice-overs into their videos to describe the process.
Lend a critical lens to your digital learning activities to being to develop more activities where students demonstrate what they understand as opposed to what they just know. As pedagogy evolves in step with technology, a key to success will be to ensure that meaningful, high-level, and valuable learning results.